Express & Star comment: Can Rishi Sunak become one of the greatest?

Since being appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer in February, Rishi Sunak has enjoyed something of an extended political honeymoon.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak
Chancellor Rishi Sunak

While Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson have all faced serious questions over their handling of the pandemic, the Chancellor has largely escaped unscathed.

His furlough scheme, announced at the start of the crisis, received almost unanimous praise, and has been credited with potentially saving millions of jobs. His Eat Out to Help Out scheme, which offered discounted meals in pubs and restaurants, was derided by some as something of a gimmick, but has nevertheless proved popular with the public, and boosted the beleaguered food-and-drink industry. The Green Home Scheme, explained on this page today, will not only allow many people to make their homes warmer and cheaper to run, but will also provide a much-needed stimulus for the building trade.

However, while these measures may mitigate the short-term economic fall-out from the coronavirus, they are a drop in the ocean compared to the underlying damage the outbreak has caused. Elsewhere in this newspaper today, we report how local authorities across the region are having to pay out hundreds of thousands of pounds to tenants struggling with their rent.

The Office for Budget Responsibility predicts borrowing will reach a record £322 billion this year, and questions are now being asked as to how Mr Sunak will plug this gaping hole.

Speculation is rife about rises in corporation and capital gains tax, higher fuel duty, as well as cuts to pensions, sparking fears that such measures could inflict yet more damage on an already struggling economy.

So far Mr Sunak has managed to avoid having to make these difficult and unpopular decisions. If the Chancellor can find a way through these difficult times without the need for harsh cuts to public services or punitive tax rises, he will rightly be regarded as one of the great chancellors of our age. Time will tell.

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